By Sarah B. Weir
Posted Mon Aug 8, 2011 1:58pm PDT
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(Photo: Getty Images)Tennis elbow, anyone? According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, sports-related injuries skyrocket in the summer. Trips to the ER rise accordingly, but less severe bumps, twists, aches, and pulls can often be treated at home with an OTC anti-inflammatory medication, rest, and the application of ice or heat.
The rule of thumb is that ice reduces inflammation and has an anesthetic effect when applied immediately after a soft-tissue injury. Heat, on the other hand, promotes healing when applied about 48 hours after the injury first happened and also comforts chronic pain.
The Mayo Clinic explains that swelling occurs when broken capillaries around a soft-tissue injury leak blood and serum. This can lead to stiffness and pain. Ice reduces this initial swelling. Heat causes capillaries to widen, but after a couple of days (once the swelling has gone down) it has a soothing effect and helps to break up blood clots around an injury. Heat also supports the healing process by increasing blood flow to the injured area.
General guidelines for applying ice and heat
Applying ice: Apply ice every waking hour or so for at least 10 but no more than 20 minutes for 48 hours. Use a thin towel between ice pack and bare skin to prevent irritation. Bags of frozen peas are convenient to use because they conform to the shape of body.
Applying heat: Apply a heating pad or hot, wet towel to affected area for up to 20 minutes several times a day. Never sleep on a heating pad.
A weekend warrior's cheat sheet for soothing specific conditions
Tendonitis: Tendonitis is the inflammation of a tendon, which shows up in conditions such as Golfer's Elbow and Swimmer's Shoulder. A new injury should first be treated with ice, though heat can be helpful for dealing with chronic pain.
Strain: A strain is the overstretching or tearing of a muscle or tendon and most often occurs in the lower back or hamstring. WebMD recommends PRICE (protection, rest, ice, compression, and elevation) for the first 48 hours.
Sprain: A sprain occurs when a ligament is overstretched or torn. The most common sprains are ankle, knee, and wrist. Minor sprains can be treated with PRICE (see above). After 48 hours of icing, heat can help break up bruising around the point of injury. Moderate sprains may need bracing and rehabilitation, and the most serious require surgery.
Contusion: According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, muscle contusions, or bruises, are the second most common sports injury after strains. Treat with ice and light compression for up to 48 hours after injury. Once any swelling has subsided, heat can help speed the healing process.
Muscle soreness: Two days after your first your first run (or soccer game or tennis match) of the season and you are so stiff and achy you can barely walk up the stairs? That pain is called delayed-onset muscle soreness. Both ice and heat may feel soothing, but according to a study published in the Journal of Sports Medicine, the best way feel better is MORE exercise after a day or two of rest.